Review of version 1.0.0 by Clif Johnston on April 19, 2015
Cyclop is the latest iPad app from Sugar Bytes, and it is massive! Like all of the Sugar Bytes apps, Cyclop is pretty much a direct port of the desktop VST, so iPad users can expect the same amazing sound quality at a fraction of the cost. (Shhh... don't tell anyone.)
At its core, Cyclop is a monophonic bass synthesizer with two separate synth modules and a sub-oscillator. There are six different synth engines available for each synth module, and the synths can be switched on or off independently. There are two filter units which can be routed in series, parallel, or split mode. Cyclop also has an Effectrix-style effects sequencer. And it has four big knobs.
Modulate All the Things
Standard modulation sources
Cyclop is all about modulation. There are five different modulation sources, including two of the previously mentioned knobs plus an envelope, LFO, and step sequencer. There are 16 total modulation targets including master pitch and volume, routing mixer controls, and three additional controls for each of the synth and filter modules. That's a lot of modulation, and while there are a few iPad synths (like TC-11 or Z3TA+) that could pull it off, there's nothing quite like Cyclop when it comes to getting your knobs twisted.
The basic familiar modulation sources are available, including an AHDSR envelope, LFO, and 16-step sequencer. In addition to acting as a modulation source, the envelope can control the rate and/or amount of the LFO. The step sequencer can be controlled by the envelope, LFO, midi notes (one step per note), the FX gater clock, or its own clock.
The sound knob can be manually tweaked or automated, and may be assigned to any combination of the 16 modulation targets. Since the actual modulation amounts and polarity for each target are set individually on the Modulation Assignments screen, the results of twisting this simple little knob can actually be quite complex.
While it may look like a Stargate navigation control, the Wobble Knob is essentially a tempo-synced LFO with a ton of modulation features. The knob has 12 positions representing LFO speeds between 1/2 (one cycle every two bars) to 48 cycles per bar. Each position has an associated waveform slot which can be set to one of 16 available waveforms. For example, you could set up the slots so you could morph between a sine wave at 4 and a sawtooth wave at 6. Beside the standard waveforms, there is also a sample-and-hold style freeze option, as well as fixed percentage options which allow you to use the Wobble knob like a step sequencer.
Like the other knobs, the Wobble Knob can be automated. Unlike the other modulation sources, you can create two distinct modulation setups in the Modulation Assignment screen and morph between them using the Amount Knob, which can also be automated.
Main synth and router modules
Cyclop has two synth modules which can each be set to one of six modes. "Saw Regimen" is a Super-Saw oscillator that generates 7 sawtooth waveforms with adjustable pitch offset. "Analog Sync" emulates a pair of analog oscillators running side-by-side with controls for mix, sync frequency, and pulse width. The FM synth module consists of a modulator oscillator and two carrier oscillators.
The fourth synth module, called "Transformer", is a wavetable synth. You can choose from over 180 included samples (with names like "Beer" and "Yomama"), or easily import your own samples via Audiopaste or AudioShare. The transformer has controls for grain size and position, as well as formant shifting. You can modulate the position control to easily move through the sample however you like.
The next synth module, the "Spectromat", is also pretty complex. It uses 32 internal oscillators, represented by spectral bands. You can "spread, shift, shape them", turn them on and off individually, and of course, modulate the hell out of everything. The final synth module is the "Phase Stressor", a phase distortion oscillator that does some crazy stuff, including self-modulation.
As mentioned above, each of the two main oscillators can be set to any of the 6 types, you can choose to run both or just one (or none if you prefer silence), and you can detune them from each other using the detune controls or octave switches. Finally, you can use the routing module to control the mix between the two synths and choose from four different paths through the filters.
Ripple and MidBoost filters running in series
Cyclop has two filters offering 10 different modes each: 3 low pass, a Moog-style band pass / low pass combo, band pass, high pass, mid boost, bandstop, ripple, and comb. The filters can be switched on and off independently, and can be routed in series, parallel, or split modes. Each filter also has a vowel mode, allowing for morphing between two distinct vowel sounds.
The FX Sequencer and FX Knob
If you've played with Effectrix or Egoist, you already know how fond Sugar Bytes is of effects sequencers. Cyclop also offers what appears to be a mini-Effectrix section, with a few notable differences.
Cyclop's sequencer has 4 effects lanes dividing the available effects into groups: pitch looper effects, loopers, vinyl effects, and classic send effects like phaser, chorus, delay, and reverb. There are dry/wet controls for each of the standard send effects below the sequencer. The sequencer also includes a gater, which provides a stutter effect that can be tempered using release or delay in the master amp envelope.
The FX Knob
The big knob on the right provides another view of what's going on in the effects sequencer and provides 3 options for moving through the effects sequence. In manual mode you can change effects by turning the knob itself or using an external midi controller. In sequencer mode, the clock moves through the effects as defined in the sequencer (forward, reverse, forward & reverse, or random). Finally, you can choose to record and playback automation just like the other knobs.
Other Good Stuff
I'll just touch on a few more features that are important but maybe not as much exciting as expected.
Master Effects & Settings
There is a tiny master effects section where you'll find the Sub Oscillator, Bass Processor, Stereo Processor, and a global Distortion. The sub processor is a straight up sine wave without any effects or filters; it's truly all about that bass. The Bass control shapes the lower frequencies, boosting at 60 and 80 Hz and cutting at 225 Hz to keep your face-melting bass from totally destroying your mix. The stereo processor uses some nifty M/S processing to widen the stereo image while keeping the lower and upper ranges centered. Finally, the distortion offers 9 different ways to make your sound edgier than it already is.
Master envelope, glide, and velocity
Below the Wobble Knob is another tiny little section where you'll find the glide settings, a velocity on/off switch, and two knobs constituting the Master amp envelope. Remember, the master amp envelope is also triggered by the fx gater.
Cyclop comes packed with over 600 presets to start you off, and thankfully there's a pretty sophisticated system for managing them. Besides a name, each preset has an author, rating, and up to 4 tags for filtering and sorting. This is a very nice touch.
As with all of the Sugar Bytes apps, the inter-op bases are well covered. Cyclop supports both Audiobus and IAA (sender/instrument only). It has a comprehensive midi implementation for mapping external controllers and will of course sync to an external midi clock. There's also iTunes sharing for exporting presets and samples for use in the desktop version.
Oh, and the Game!
One undeniably fun extra is the little arcade shooter game that comes tucked away inside Cyclop. It works pretty much how you'd expect it to, while also triggering midi notes as you shoot the robots.
There are tons of unique and fun features that you simply won't find in any other synth app. For truly killer bass sounds, this app easily lands at the top of the list. If you make Dubstep, you probably already have this and the desktop version, and if not, you should buy it just because it has a Wobble knob.
However, this really is much more than just a bass synth, and it's quite possible to make very cool non-bass sounds with it. While driving it with Egoist is a no-brainer scenario providing the expected results, hooking it up to something like TC-Data offers a whole new world of subtler soundscaping options due to Cyclop's vast modulation capabilities.
Stability-wise, the app was solid on my A7 devices running iOS 8.1.
Like most of Sugar Bytes' apps, the controls are tiny and the interface is cramped. Cyclop lacks the zoom functionality of Turnado and Thesys, so if you have large fingers you may need to find the system level zoom in the accessibility settings to program presets without losing your cool. Regardless, a stylus will come in handy. Luckily I have smaller fingers, otherwise as a iPad mini user this may have been a show-stopper. In my opinion, this is the "elephant in the room" for all of the Sugar Bytes apps and just needs to be dealt with.
Throughout my extensive use of this app over the past week, I only encountered 2 moderately annoying bugs, which I'll forward on to Sugar Bytes. The first is a stuck note issue (no, not hold) which one other user reported, and the other was an issue selecting recently created presets.
I had consistent issues getting Egoist and Cyclop to both work at the same time when setting up an Audiobus session, which I could always resolve by removing and re-adding one or both in Audiobus. After the release of iOS 8, who to blame this on is anyone's best guess.
At $25, this is a pricey app, so it's fair to consider how much use you'll really get out of it before hitting buy. If your music depends on bass, you really do need this app. If you like Effectrix or Egoist, you'll most likely enjoy Cyclop. If you've read this and the manual, and watched all the YouTube videos you can find, and still aren't sure... maybe hold off for now.